International Nursing, Panama 2020

Health Care in Panama

Friday, March 13, 2020

“You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.” Psalm 32:7-8

Boquete, Panama

I had just fallen asleep when my bed began to shake. What’s happening? About 20 seconds later the shaking stopped. Oh yes, Boquete has mild earthquakes. So now I’ve experienced my first one. I turned on the light and all appeared to be the same so I rolled over and went back to sleep.

I greeted the few remaining tourmates at breakfast. “Did anyone else feel the earthquake last night?” Only those on the top floor felt it. I packed my bags and wrote an email home from the hotel computer in the lobby. I washed my hands well after touching the shared keyboard. The desk clerk called a cab for me and Gonzalo, a friendly young driver, took me a mile to the hostel where I would live for the next 3 weeks. I told him in Spanish how I looked forward to visiting a local church on Sunday. He said the President of Panama closed all churches with more than 50 people because of coronavirus so his church would not meet this Sunday.

I greeted Jane, the owner of the hostel, who led me my small dark room. I told her I didn’t have quite enough cash to pay her for the entire 3 weeks as I agreed to do on Booking.com in October. I asked if I could pay her for one week at a time since I didn’t know if I would shorten my visit because of the virus. She smiled and said, “No, Pamela, you need to pay the total today. It’s no problem while you go to the bank to get the money. Tranquilo!” (relax).

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My small dark room at the hostel

I put my bags in my room and walked 3 blocks to the ATM outside the bank. I withdrew the needed cash and motioned the guard to unlock the door so I could go inside. I asked the manager in English, “Can I have change for a $20 bill?”(They use the US dollar in Panama.)

“Do you have an account here?”

“No.”

“We only give change to our customers.”

I’m sure my face registered my shock. I turned around and left. It’s never a problem to get change from the bank in the USA, but I need to go with the flow.

Back at the hostel, Jane counted my $594 twice, wrote a receipt in Spanish, and asked for my approval. I might need this to get a refund with my trip interruption insurance if I leave early and carefully added it to my folder. I asked if the tap water was safe to drink and she replied, “Oh, yes! Absolutely!” I unpacked my things and turned up the window air conditioner as high as it would go. I surveyed the bathroom. There was only cold water at the sink but at least the shower had hot and cold faucets. I was glad to have a private bathroom and looked forward to sharing the small kitchen and living room with other guests so I could visit with them.

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My private bathroom with only cold water at the sink but a wonderful hot shower.

I then walked two blocks over the uneven sidewalks to the grocery store and bought a dozen eggs, a box of rice cereal, ginger tea, bananas, and bottled water. I put the eggs in the frig at the hostel and the dry goods in my room.

Unfortunately, diarrhea started after breakfast and continued. I still felt hot so I pulled out my temporal thermometer and checked. 102.9 F (39.39 C) This is quite a high fever so no wonder I felt so hot. I pulled out my tour book and called the doctor they recommended. By now it was 7 p.m. Dr. G answered in Spanish. I started telling him my symptoms in English and he switched over and told me to go to the office and see the evening clinic doctor.

I left the hostel and tried to remember the clinic location from my brief visit there on Tuesday when I simply followed the tour guide. After two blocks, nothing looked familiar. I turned into a little shop and asked the owner in Spanish to direct me. Her little girl replied, “Mama, can I show her?” Her mother nodded. The cute girl took off down the street where I had just walked and pointed to the clinic door behind the barbershop. I thanked her and she smiled. “De nada” (it’s nothing) and ran back down the street to her mother.

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So glad to find the clinic behind the barber shop!

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I entered and told the nurse in Spanish my symptoms. She made a copy of my passport, checked my temperature with an ear thermometer, and asked me to take a seat. Only one other person waited. A tall blond lady in scrubs came out and asked me to follow her. I sat in a chair next to her desk and she introduced herself as Dr. Susan in perfect American English. She carefully reviewed my written medical sheet with my history, meds, and allergies I always carry with me.

After a thorough exam, she said, “You have the stomach bug going around Boquete.” We discussed different antibiotics and chose Cipro because I’ve taken that in the past without problems. She also prescribed a liquid probiotic to replenish the good bacteria in my gut. She advised me to move to a different place where I would have hot water in the bathroom and a private kitchen. Since my blood pressure was quite low from dehydration, I needed to drink lots of bottled water because the tap water was only safe with a good filter. I should only take immodium to stop the diarrhea if I’m traveling. She told me the pharmacy around the corner was open until 9 p.m. and I could return the next night to see her if I didn’t feel better.

I went to the desk and paid $20 in cash. I walked 200 feet the other way to the pharmacy and handed my two prescriptions to the technician. She put my meds in a small paper bag and charged me $37. I walked back to the hostel and took both my meds with some Tylenol for my fever and drank a large bottle of water. I took a hot shower and fell into bed.

Dear Lord, Thank You so much for Dr. Susan and giving me treatment so quickly tonight. Show me if I should move to a different place or if I should fly home early. Please heal me and give me sweet sleep. Amen.

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